The-Protectors

The Protectors

Available on: Within

What if I told you there was a free Kathryn Bigelow documentary you can watch right now? Co-created with Imraan Ismail for National Geographic, it depicts a day in the life of African Park Rangers in Garamba National Park, a place where poachers kill elephants for their ivory.

Honestly, this short shows where filmmakers will have to change up their craft to truly take advantage of virtual reality. There are tons of shots here, which makes for what’s sometimes a jarring experience in VR, as you have to figure out where you are every time a shot cuts. Fortunately the subject matter is as fascinating as any, as you watch a literal army of Park Rangers training to fight a war against an increasingly militarized group of poachers. What you end up seeing is hard to shake.

Testimony

Testimony 

Available on: Gear VR

An interactive documentary about sexual assault survivors, Testimony gives you access to videos from interviews with five people. Their stories are connected by nodes, and you have to look at a picture of the person to listen to each section of an interview. When you do, you’ll be faced with that person explaining their assault, both what happened during it and what happened afterwards.

To say this experience is rough is an understatement. You can’t watch the whole thing without becoming an active participant, looking directly into the eyes of people recounting incredible moments of horror. It’s not easy for any of them, even some of those who have had decades to deal with it, as many have had to deal with shame and a failing legal system afterwards, compounding their experience.

The Fight for Fallujah

The Fight for Fallujah

Available on: NYTVR

One interesting thing about shooting VR documentaries in rough parts of the world is that it’s very hard to leave yourself out of it. Sure, you could just plop the camera down somewhere and hope for the best, I suppose, but if you want to get good shots you’ve got to become part of the film itself. This makes for an interesting look at the battle for Fallujah, as a New York Times reporter and his interpreter are inevitably part of the film. As bullets begin to fly, you not only see the soldiers fighting, but the faces of the press. There have been dozens of documentaries made about the wars in Iraq, but when you are given the option of who to look at and what to focus on, it makes you present in a way a regular camera could never do.

Man on Spire

Man on Spire

Available on: NYTVR

There’s not much more to this short than its cleverly-titled concept, but it doesn’t need to be any more than that. It’s a simple trip up to the top of the World Trade Center, all the way up the massive spire that looms over all of New York City. It’s a view that you will never get without risking death or arrest, and shows a view that few will ever see. Honestly, it’s a view that few would ever want to see and it’s panic-inducing even from the safety of your VR headset. More than a few people I’ve shown this short to have nearly fallen over after looking at the ground – scary for them, but funny for anyone watching.

Jafri

Jafri 

Available on: Jaunt 

Jafri is a local legend in Melbourne: an African-Australian man who stands in the middle of one of the busiest intersections with signs that read “STOP RACISM NOW.” He’s a refugee that’s found it hard to assimilate into the city, and so once a week, he goes out to spread his message and meet the people.

Whereas a normal documentary about this unique man would have just been a piece of his life, with VR, you are able to take the journey with him in the morning and stand alongside him as you see how people react. You see the amount of courage it takes to stand up and be judged by thousands of people, and what he gets from it: handshakes, high fives, and conversations.

Policing Flint

Policing Flint

Available on: NYTVR

What’s it like to have one of the toughest, most thankless jobs in the country? Here’s an idea. Flint, Michigan is not an easy place to live in the best of times, let alone the last few years, where it’s been faced with non-stop cases of police brutality, growing unemployment, and a community rocked by a water crisis. This film lets you joins the understaffed and morale-depleted police force and see what it’s trying to do to combat all of these issues. We take rides with them and watch them at work, both on the streets and in the halls of the police station.

This New York Times “op-doc” is perhaps the most polished documentary in this list, a jarring look at the other side of a story that still takes time to let everyone have their voice. This is the film you show people who are undecided about the impact of virtual reality, because no matter your take on the subject matter, you’ll come out of it feeling like you learned something.

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